By Amie Sillah
Rural women’s lives at a glance
At the Social Front
The rural woman grows up, lives and dies in drudgery. She wakes up when the cocks crow and begin the endless chores commencing with preparation of breakfast by pounding cereal, the fetching of water by using hand pump or pulling 20 litre containers from deep wells which impact on their arms and chests and ruin their health.
The combination of the preparation of all meals with farm or garden work, laundry, fetching water, taking care of the sick and elderly make the life the rural woman a death trap which most shoulder with the hope of getting heaven as a reward.
Poor nutrition, excessive childbirth and household drudgery hasten the aging of the rural woman. Their enormous social responsibilities do not escape their notice of their children many of who try to escape poverty by taking the back way route for greener pastures. Many perish in the process and many also get deported after spending what their families could mobilise.
Gender-based violence is also experienced by rural women and their children. Assault, battery, rape, and eventually murder of women are now not uncommon but are still under reported. The culture of impunity allows violence against women/ rural women including adolescent girls to continue unabated.
Natural disasters such as unseasonal rains, drought, flood and fire outbreaks contribute to the hardship experienced by the rural woman.
Many are also victims of Low literacy, high maternal and childhood mortality and morbidity.
At the Economic Front
Small scale farming on user rights family land does not take them out of poverty especially when the farming tools are not mechanized and every work is tedious and manual with little output and input which result in poor yield and excessive usage of farmland. Lack of storage facilities, poor road infrastructure and inadequate access to markets also lead to excessive post-harvest loss as well.
At the Cultural Front
There are positive coping mechanisms for rural families to support each other in burial, initiation, naming, wedding and religious ceremonies; the caring and sharing concept is still very strong and viable. Harmful traditional practices still prevail. The girl children are married early to reduce the burden on parents which continue the poverty cycle on such young brides. FGM/FC and teenage pregnancy still increase the suffering of women.
At the Environmental Front
The environment is our friend but how can we reciprocate to it by being eco-friendly? Rural women don’t have the knowhow. Poverty has forced them to cut down trees for firewood and charcoal. Such activities are inimical to the eco system.
At the Political Front
Patronage is utilized to mobilize women to gain political power and some fanatically support candidates and parties by standing on political platforms to insult and castigate each other forgetting about themselves and their country. They do not bother to scrutinize programmes and policies for the people and the country. They enjoy politics of patronage and never question where such monies given to them for ‘Kolanuts’ come from. The Republic makes them sovereign as guaranteed in the constitution but many are yet to become sovereign citizens of a nation who are enlightened and dignified.
Message of Solidarity
My message of solidarity is for our rural sisters, mothers and grandmothers to be alert and listen carefully to the political messages from the parties and the political personalities who seek election.
Gambian women should find out and support candidates and parties that have the policies and programmes that we believe could take us out of poverty and bring about prosperity, liberty and dignity.
Politics is the steering wheel of a nation and we should not be complacent in this aspect of our life. We have only one life to live on this earth and we should live it well.
Our sovereign national wealth should be utilized to free us from drudgery which causes aging and add to the high rate of maternal mortality/morbidity as well as child mortality.
We need mechanization as well as the development of cooperative farming to make our occupation easier; the wealth derived from our labour to be utilized to provide us with good housing, durable infrastructure such as roads, utilities and other forms of transportation to make life easier and more enjoyable.
We should harness the environment and utilize wind, sun, biomass and water for our energy needs.
We also need markets, internal as well external, for successful trade.
We need literacy in our official language as well as our national languages.
We need to develop theatre and positive enlightenment songs to assert our sovereignty to live a life in liberty and dignity.
We need a society where we are free to hold on to our beliefs and practice them without interference or coercion from any quarters. We need to live in peace and harmony with our neighbours, friends or relatives irrespective faith or belief. We have to live and let live.
We need to educate our children to love themselves, love country and live as sovereign citizens.
Lastly but not the least, we are the voters, we make leaders and they do not make us. Let us search for the knowledge necessary to make us sovereign and carve our destiny on earth and not be a fool to anyone who can use and dump us. It is personal interest versus national interest.